«There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know»
During a briefing on the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld divided information into 4 categories:
- known known
- known unknown
- unknown known
- unknown unknown
These differences became the basis of the Rumsfeld matrix (a decision-making system that displays and evaluates different degrees of certainty and uncertainty).
4 quadrants of the Rumsfeld matrix
- Known knowns: These are facts that we know and understand. It is our knowledge base that provides a solid basis for decision making;
- Known unknowns: These are facts that we know about, but do not fully understand. These are gaps in our knowledge that we need to address through research, investigation or expert consultation;
- Unknown knowns: These are facts that we don’t realize we know. Such information is stored in our subconscious, ignored and considered unnecessary. Disclosure of such information can be beneficial and lead to certain breakthroughs in the decision-making process;
- Unknown unknowns: These are facts that we do not know and cannot predict. They are the most significant source of uncertainty and risk, as they can lead to surprise and disrupt plans.
Rumsfeld Matrix effectiveness
- Managing uncertainty: the matrix helps to navigate uncertainty while breaking it down into manageable pieces. Known unknowns help to identify assumptions that need to be tested. The unknown knowns help to access hidden knowledge and ideas that will contribute to a better understanding of a situation;
- Improved decision making: Using a matrix helps prioritize and focus on more important sources of uncertainty. Systematic elimination of such uncertainties makes it possible to make more informed decisions and effectively manage risks;
- Teamwork: The matrix promotes open and honest communication among team members. As they work, team members effectively collaborate with each other, identify, resolve known unknowns and unknown knowns, share knowledge, and discuss assumptions.
Rumsfeld Matrix using
- Quadrants definition:
- decision context – it is necessary to identify the decision context, objectives, constraints and key stakeholders. This stage is the basis for further analysis and ensures that all team members understand the goal and parameters of the solution;
- matrix creation – it is necessary to create a 2×2 matrix with columns «Known» and «Unknown», and the same rows. The result will be 4 quadrants: «known known», «known unknown», «unknown known», «unknown unknown»;
- «known knowns» quadrant – all the facts, assumptions and variables that are known and understood by all team members. Since this information is the basis of the decision-making process, it must be accurate and complete;
- «known unknowns» quadrant – all the factors, issues, and variables that team members are aware of but do not fully understand. Identified gaps and potential risks can be closed through additional research and study. This stage requires honesty and thoroughness, because this is where the assumptions that need to be focused on are determined;
- «unknown knowns» quadrant – this stage is quite complex, which involves identifying hidden or missed ideas and knowledge. Active, structured discussion and reflection on past experiences will help identify knowledge and perspectives. It is also advisable to turn to turn to experts and consult on certain issues;
- «unknown unknowns» quadrant – at this stage the unknown should be assessed. Since it is impossible to predict all unknown unknowns, it is important to recognize their existence and the potential risk of their occurrence. It is necessary to plan for different scenarios, develop a contingency plan, establish monitoring and feedback mechanisms. This approach will help to improve response to and management of unknown unknowns as they arise.
- Prioritizing and eliminating «known unknowns». At this stage, should focus on the «known unknowns» quadrant, prioritizing all components of the quadrant based on their potential impact on the decision. Information obtained through additional research and consultation must be entered into the matrix;
- Using «unknown knowns». Previously hidden knowledge and experience can lead to new ideas and alternative solutions. Integrating all the ideas will help to make more informed decisions;
- Monitoring and responding to «unknown unknowns». This quadrant will always exist. Regular monitoring of the decision-making environment and adaptation to unforeseen situations should be organized, feedback loops and action plans should be introduced in such situations. This will help to remain flexible and respond quickly to emerging uncertainties;
- Making decisions. Based on the completed matrix and available information, decisions must be made. Monitoring and analyzing the results of its implementation will help to draw lessons and experience. The matrix can be updated as needed and used for subsequent decision making.